Covid crisis showed how diversity is central to spirit of modern Britain: Naz Shah

WE live in an era where clickbait stories and internet trolls sometimes overshadow the true community spirit of our nation, but in the darkest of days of Covid, our nation witnessed the best of being British and the true image of modern Britain.

Members of the public have their Covid-19 vaccinations at Fazl Mosque in Southfields as they host a drop in clinic

People from every community, those of faith and no faith, from all four nations of the United Kingdom, stood up to play their part and support our nation in our time of need.

Our brave NHS staff stepped up to the pedestal, working long hours to provide the care and vital support needed, including for the Prime Minister when he was infected with Covid-19

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In those moments, there was no debate about whether someone was a foreign doctor or a refugee nurse. They were our doctors, our nurses and our frontline staff, delivering care to more than 100,000 people taking their final breaths and to hundreds of thousands who they saved with their care.

Naz Shah is Labour MP for Bradford west and spoke in a Parliamentary debate on the community response to Covid.

In those moments, when most of our economy was shutting down, we witnessed the hard work of frontline workers – shopkeepers, supermarket workers, delivery drivers, police officers, taxi drivers and so many more – who continued to carry on with their work, despite being in high-risk jobs. If it was not for them, the pandemic in those early days could have been so much worse.

Millions across the UK felt the true community spirit that I felt here in my community, with communities coming together. Those who had never volunteered became volunteers. Those who had left the NHS were signing their names to enlist once more, to play their part. They are the glue that binds us together.

Despite the challenges that Covid-19 was bringing to churches, mosques and community centres – to everywhere across the nation – we now find cathedrals or churches in almost every city or town that are vaccine centres.

In London, the famous Lord’s cricket ground handed over the bat to the Jewish community of St John’s Wood synagogue, which will now house the vaccine centre. In Slough, one of the largest Sikh gurdwaras in the UK, Guru Maneyo Granth Gurdwara, responded by providing more than one million meals across every borough in London to all those in need. Hindu communities responded in various ways, including the volunteers from Swaminarayan Sanstha, who rallied to launch a nationwide programme to support communities during the pandemic.

A volunteer draws the Astrazeneca vaccine as members of the public have their Covid-19 vaccinations at Fazl Mosque in Southfields as they host a drop in clinic.

I saw at first hand the efforts put in by Muslim communities from mosques becoming emergency morgues and hospitals, to local Muslim shopkeepers leading the way by providing emergency relief. In fact, when those such as the Moonlight Trust in Batley started their voluntary work, they thought, like many of us, that Covid-19 would be here for the short term. As Covid prolonged, so too did their efforts.

The charity sector, which has always been the backbone of providing support to the vulnerable and needy, had an even bigger task on its hands, and despite its finances being in a vulnerable state, it delivered.

While our institutions played their part, including local councils that had to restructure essential services, there were individual heroes who we will never forget, many of whom were themselves grieving the personal loss of loved ones to Covid. Many of them were from minority communities, which were impacted disproportionately by Covid-19. When the Government dithered over providing free school meals, it was the business community across the country that stepped in.

In closing, I say this to those who want to create culture wars, to pitch community against community and to target minorities, making them feel like they do not belong in the UK: reflect and think again. And if I am asked, “What is the British spirit?”, I say that it is what we saw in this pandemic, whether it is the Muslim doctors who were sadly the first to die from Covid-19 on the frontline or the Sikh volunteers delivering langar; the black train driver in London or the white taxi driver in Devon; the church providing PPE or the synagogue setting up a vaccine centre; the European supermarket worker or the refugee delivery driver; the doctor, the nurse, the care worker or the cleaner.

This is modern Britain: diverse, inclusive and all playing our part to protect our country, our NHS and our people. This is modern Britain.

Naz Shah is Labour MP for Bradford West and spoke in a Parliamentary debate on the community response to Covid – this is an edited version.

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